Election Year Recalibration

There’s an interesting op-ed piece by David Brooks in today’s New York Times concerning the Republican party’s efforts at redefining their message to appeal to lower/middle class voters.  (free registration required, or use BugMeNot)  Mr. Brooks is one of the Times’ conservative columnists, so he’s naturally approach the subject in an attempt to support it rather than mock & ridicule it. The article is interesting both for what it says as well as what it doesn’t say.

Brooks comes out and states that the traditional Republican policies of middle-class tax cuts are no longer viable today in a world where the US national debt is spiraling out of control.  He doesn’t talk about whether we can continue to slash tax rates for corporations and the wealthy. This might be because it’s out of scope for the article or it might be because that’s not the plan.  I personally think both of those options are valid.

Globalization is still seen as a good thing, and the government’s role now is to help prepare American workers for competing on the global stage.  No mention is made (with good reason, IMO) of how competing in a global market will affect the standard of living for the average American worker.

Brooks then trots out a number of policy ideas that can may or may not have any real benefit.  The idea of giving everyone $1000 at birth is pointless considering the way inflation destroys the value of a dollar over time.   The increased child tax credit may be more worthwhile, depending on how much it is and how many people would benefit.  While talking about the Republicans’ rediscovery of fiscal restraint after eight years of Republican-driven largess, he makes no mention of the entitlement programs that are the main threats facing future generations of American taxpayers.

I’ve harped on this before, but Social Security, Medicare & other entitlement programs are the crux of our future fiscal problems.  No politician from either party wants to seriously discuss this issue since it is the proverbial ‘third rail‘ of American electoral politics, but until someone does, the problem is only going to get worse.   We continue to rack up debts that our children & grandchildren will be forced to deal with.

The article has a number of interesting points, and the admission that using ‘values’ to lure in lower-class voters isn’t working well anymore is notable.   When the economy is good, convincing voters to go against their own economic interests is easier.  I’ll be very curious to see how this approach takes form as we get closer to convention time.   My gut feeling is that once we get down to two main candidates for the presidency, we’ll hear lots of talk about how the economy needs to be watched, but the fundamentals are good… no one campaigns with the slogan “we’re totally screwed!” after all.   The Republican may or may not talk about tax cuts for spurring growth, while the Democrat may talk about new programs without mentioning how those programs will be funded.   This will depend on how the US economy does over the course of the year; the worse it gets, the less likely it is that vague bullshit can be pedaled to Americans without consequences.

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